Wisconsin's high electricity rates spark regulator warnings

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's high electric rates could spark some of its big manufacturers to move or expand elsewhere, state regulators have been warned.

Wisconsin's average electric rates are highest among eight Midwest states for the first time since 2006, according to a report approved by the Public Service Commission last month.

Comments submitted in response to that report say those rates make it hard for industries to remain competitive, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. And that's led to calls for fostering price competition, such as allowing users to choose their power providers instead of being restricted to the current utility monopolies.

Wisconsin's electric rates average 10.97 cents per kilowatt-hour. Other states range from 8.65 cents in Iowa to 10.87 cents in Michigan. The U.S. average is 11.02 cents, the report says.

For industrial customers, Wisconsin's rates are also the highest among the eight Midwest states at 7.81 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with 6.06 cents to 7.25 cents for the other states.

The Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, representing more than 30 of the state's largest companies, and the Wisconsin Paper Council submitted a joint statement to the PSC contending that electricity is not available "at reasonable prices" in Wisconsin compared with other states.

"It is particularly troubling to note in a state whose economy is built on manufacturing that in 2015, not only did Wisconsin have the highest average industrial rate when compared to surrounding states, the Midwest and U.S. averages respectively, but the growth rate from 2001 to 2015 was the highest as well," the groups said.

Charter Steel says it won't move out of Wisconsin, but it may do its growing elsewhere.

"The noncompetitive cost of electricity in the We Energies' service territory is a key reason we are looking to expand outside of Wisconsin for future growth projects," said Bob Venable, president and chief operating officer of Charter Manufacturing, Charter Steel's parent company.

Milwaukee-based We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said the utility has worked closely with its industrial customers to help lower their energy costs. He also said We Energies has been ahead in adding pollution controls to its coal-fired power plants, an expense that other states will soon have to bear.

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